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Maternity leave and pay

Key points

  • Pregnant employees have the right to 52 weeks maternity leave.
  • 39 weeks could be paid which may be statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance or contractual maternity pay (contractual pay may be more than statutory pay or could be paid for longer than 39 week - this will depend on the terms of employment).
  • During maternity leave employee and employer can agree to have up to 10 keep in touch days.
  • Paid reasonable time off for antenatal care.
  • Employee has the right to return to original job or suitable alternative.

Maternity leave and pay

A pregnant employee has the right to both 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave as well as 26 weeks of additional maternity leave. To qualify for maternity leave, an employee must tell their employer by the end of the 15th weeks before the expected week of childbirth:

  • that she is pregnant
  • the expected week of childbirth, by means of a medical certificate if requested
  • the date she intends to start maternity leave. This can normally be any date which is no earlier that the beginning of the 11th week before the expected week of childbirth up to the birth. It is best to advice the employer as soon as possible.

Once notification has been given to the employer they must then write to the employee, within 28 days of her notification, setting out her return date. The employee must give eight weeks notice if she wishes to change the return date.

All pregnant employees are entitled to reasonable time off with pay for antenatal care made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, which may include relaxation classes and parent-craft classes. Except for the first appointment, employees should show the employer, if requested, an appointment card or other documents showing that an appointment has been made.

Reforms - Shared Parental Leave

Shared Parental Leave is a new right that will enable eligible mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to choose how to share time off work after their child is born or placed. This could mean that the mother or adopter shares some of the leave with her partner, perhaps returning to work for part of the time and then resuming leave at a later date.

The regulations are currently before parliament and are due to come into force 1 December 2014. The options to use the new Shared Parental Leave rights will apply for parents who meet the eligibility criteria, where a baby is due to be born on or after 5 April 2015, or for children who are placed for adoption on or after that date.

Statutory maternity pay

Statutory maternity pay (SMP) will be payable if the employee has been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks ending with the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth, and has an average weekly earnings at least equal to the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions. SMP is payable for 39 weeks; for the first six weeks it is paid at 90 percent of the average weekly earning. The following 33 weeks will be paid at the SMP rate or 90 per cent of the average weekly earnings which ever is the lower. The SMP rate from April 2014 is £138.18 per week, increasing to £139.56 per week from 5 April 2015. The standard rate for SMP is reviewed every April.

Maternity Allowance

Women who do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay may be entitled to Maternity Allowance, paid by the Benefits Agency, for up to 39 weeks. To qualify, they must have been employed or self-employed for 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks before the expected week of childbirth.

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